On hot California summer days, it makes all the sense in the world: Harness the power of the sun to cool your home, run your refrigerator and charge your gizmos.
After three years in his Placerville home, Brian Veerkamp decided to join the energy revolution. He had a 6 kilowatt solar array mounted on his roof.
"My wife and I firmly believe that individuals should take responsibility for their power needs," said Veerkamp, chief of the El Dorado Hills Fire Department. "California is one of the better states to do this in because we have lots of sunshine."
This weekend, the sun's rays produced more energy than the Veerkamp household consumed, so the meter spun backward.
That – and government subsidies – helps explain why solar panels are being added to existing homes at a quickening pace.
Utilities also are under pressure not only to prepare for future energy needs, but to replace existing dirty power plants with cleaner sources. The state requirement is that 20 percent of a utility's power delivery be from alternative sources. That minimum is expected to be 33 percent by 2020.
As a result, ambitious plans are in the works to transmit green energy to urban customers from new wind, solar and geothermal energy farms in remote stretches of Northern California.
But as rural opposition to those plans mounts, critics suggest rather than stringing thousands of miles of new high-voltage power lines – affecting property owners along the way – the state should do what Veerkamp has done and turn every rooftop into a mini-power plant.
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